It's difficult to be forgotten while becoming a legend, but for Fenerbahçe captain Alex de Souza, that's started to happen. Before making the move to Turkey in 2004, the attacking midfielder commonly featured in the Brazilian national team. But when he moved from Cruziero to Fener his time with the Selecao started to fade. Shortly before the 2006 World Cup, he made his last appearance for this country despite the 27-year-old good for a goal every four games with his national team.
As Alex's international hopes dimmed his club life was coming to life. Having returned to Europe after a brief foray into the Italian Serie A, the man Fener started building their attack around was a crucial component to four Champions League campaigns, including the Yellow Canaries' run to the quarterfinals in 2007-08. And while Fenerbahçe's influence on the continent has faded, the Brazilian has maintained his effect on the club, notching double-digit goals and assists in each league season since moving to Istanbul.
But because of his age and his club's misfortunes, the Fenerbahçe captain has become overlooked. He is now the third most prominent Brazilan Alex in UEFA, behind the Chelsea defender and Spartak Moscow midfielder Given how few people know of Alex Meschini's exploits in the Russian Liga, the Alex who has been a dominant player at Palmeiras, Cruziero and Fener is an afterthought where he's remembered at all.
Ironically, Alex's production may actually be improving. With 18 goals, Alex leads the Turkish Süper Lig. His 10 assists have helped Mamadou Niang make a smooth transition from Marseille, the Senegalese striker's 14 goals second in league. The duo, along with Niang's partner Semih Senturk, have given Fenerbahçe the best attack in Turkey, the team's 60 goals eight more than any other club in league. As a result, Fenerbahçe is in first place, joint top with Trabzonspor, as they hope to end their three-year title drought.
Should they claim the league, it will be Fener's record 18th title, giving them one more than arch rivals Galatasaray. Gala last won the league in 2008, one year after Fener's 17th title, the fifth season in a row one of Turkey's two biggest clubs had taken the league. Not that such a run was remarkable, given the clubs had won seven in a row before fellow-Istanbul club Beşiktaş claimed 2003's title.
Track back through the history of the Turkish first division and you see the same thing. Aside from Beşiktaş in the early 90s and Ahmet Suat Özyazıcı's great Trabzonspor teams of the late 70s, there have only been two faces to Turkish football. As Real Madrid and Barcelona are to Spain, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray are to Turkey.
This year, however, Galatasaray has hit a low point. Their early season struggles saw them sitting at the periphery of European qualification, a status that led to manager Frank Rijkaard's departure. Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi returned to the place he finished his playing career (where he managed the team to a domestic cup in 2005), but the team's only gotten worse, leading to fans to call for his dismissal. Galatasaray has set a club record for losses in a league season with 12.
Gala currently sits in 11th place, and although their talent is no longer keeping up with Fener's, this team is too good to be this bad. Lucas Neill, Emiliano Insua, Harry Kewell and Milan Baros are the internationals that catch eyes, though Turks Sabri Sarioglu, Servet Cetin, Hakan Balta, and Kazim Kazim (fresh from the other side of the Bosphorus) make this the second most recognizable team in the league. Arda Turan, the Lions' captain and best player, will also feature, but with the midfielder coming off a long-term injury, he is not match-fit.
Even if the squad was at full strength and in form, a derby win over Fenerbahçe would be the proverbial tall order. Gala has only one league win over Fener since 2004. The Yellow Canaries also carry a nine-match winning streak into Friday's meeting, and even with star midfielder Emre Belözoğlu a miss, Aykut Kocaman's side will be profound favorites to stay atop the league.
The profound nature of it is the diverging paths of these two clubs. The charm of Gala-Fener has always been buttressed by the teams' statures, the titans rarely beyond a title race - let alone in the bottom half of the table. But such is that state of affairs at Galatasaray that the club is closer to relegation (12 points) than to Fener (24).
That chasm has some around Gala setting different goals. This will be the first derby at Türk Telekom Arena, where the Lions moved earlier this year. Galatasaray has alerted the Guinness Book of World Records that a mark could be set for the loudest crowd at a sporting event. Guinness officials will be in attendance, but with the recent form of the respective sides, Galatasaray may stand a better chance of setting the mark if they gave their supporter's tickets to Fenerbahçe fans. Yellow Canaries' supporters are more likely to have something to cheer about.